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How Patriots receiver Mohamed Sanu is approaching his first game back in Cincinnati

Mohamed Sanu has 18 catches for 135 yards with the Patriots since arriving in a trade with the Falcons.
Mohamed Sanu has 18 catches for 135 yards with the Patriots since arriving in a trade with the Falcons.FILE/TODD OLSZEWSKI/GETTY IMAGES/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH — Julian Edelman was suspended in midair on the Gillette Stadium scoreboard Sunday as the highlight of his iconic catch from Super Bowl LI was playing.

As frame by frame of his fingertip snag in the 34-28 overtime win over the Falcons in February 2017 clicked away during the Chiefs game, the crowd noise grew until it reached thunderous levels.

On the Patriots’ sideline, Mohamed Sanu was hearing it, too. Not from the crowd, from his teammates.

“People were joking over there, ‘Don’t look up, Mo, don’t look up Mo,’ ’’ Sanu said with a simple smile. “I said, ‘Hey, I was there. I seen it. I seen it live. That’s nothing I haven’t seen yet.’ ’’


Sanu took the friendly-fire ribbing the same way he seems to take everything: in stride.

The eighth-year veteran returns to Cincinnati this weekend to play a game for the first time since signing a free agent deal with Atlanta in 2016.

Though Sanu acknowledged he doesn’t know what emotions he’ll be feeling when he walks into Paul Brown Stadium Sunday morning, he’s certain “it’ll be cool.’’

Sanu hasn’t been a stranger to the Queen City since leaving, as he visits often because his son, Mohamed Jr., lives there, and he maintains strong ties with friends in the area.

Sanu is also still close with some of his former teammates.

“I still talk to guys — A.J. [Green]. The guys on defense. Shawn Williams. Darqueze [Dennard], all those guys. Carlos [Dunlap]. Andy [Dalton], obviously,’’ said Sanu. “I talk to those guys a lot — it’ll be cool. Played them last year [in Atlanta]. Be cool to play them this year in Cincinnati.’’

Sanu originally was plucked by the Bengals in the third round of the 2012 draft, though for a fleeting moment the Rutgers standout was hoodwinked into thinking he was a first-rounder.


In a not-so-funny prank, Sanu received a call from someone posing as a Bengals official informing him the team had grabbed him with the 27th overall pick. It was only after his family and friends had exploded into celebration that they saw moments later that Cincinnati had actually picked guard Kevin Zeitler.

Sanu, who never found out who spoofed him (“I didn’t need to,’’ he said), didn’t let the temporary setback affect him.

Sanu celebrated with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton after a touchdown pass against the Titans in 2014.
Sanu celebrated with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton after a touchdown pass against the Titans in 2014.David Kohl/AP/FR51830 AP via AP

“Yeah, I was thrown off but I wasn’t really bothered by it,’’ he said. “It was unexpected. We were just sitting there chilling. I definitely thought I’d go second day, and then when I got the call I was like, ‘Whoa!’ But other than that, I wasn’t bothered.’’

Marvin Lewis, the Bengals coach at the time, was bothered, however. After hearing about the prank, he called Sanu the next morning and left him a message.

“I literally called him and apologized for what had happened,’’ Lewis said via telephone from Arizona this past week. “I left a message and said, ‘Really sorry. Good luck to you — hopefully something works out.’ ’’

Something worked out.

The real Bengals called on Day 2, and Sanu remembered he had to shush his family as he took the call from receivers coach Jim Urban.

“He said, ‘Do you want to be a Bengal for real this time?’ ” said Sanu. “I was like, ‘Yes!’ It was pretty ironic.’’

One of his fellow Scarlet Knights thought early on that Sanu was a sure-fire first-day pick.


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“I thought he would have been a first-round safety. First week of practice at Rutgers he knocked a receiver’s helmet right off,’’ said Devin McCourty. “I was a corner then and I was excited. I thought he’d be a first-rounder. But the next week he got moved to receiver and the rest is history.’’

Sanu built an impressive résumé in Piscataway, catching a Big East-record 210 passes for 2,263 yards and 12 touchdowns in three seasons at Rutgers.

After four years in Cincinnati, Sanu was a hot free agent, and he cashed in with a five-year, $32.5 million deal with the Falcons.

After three-plus seasons in Atlanta, Sanu was traded to the Patriots — a team he’d been linked to during the predraft process, his free agency period, and at every trade deadline since he entered the league.

When he received the call on Oct. 23 that he was headed to New England, Sanu knew it wasn’t a spoof.

“Honestly, I was confused but excited. It’s like, nobody wants to be traded. It’s not something you want, but at the same time it is what is,’’ said Sanu. “And I’m here now and I’m with a bunch of great guys.’’

Sanu’s cellphone blew up almost immediately as word spread through social media that he was on his way to Foxborough.

“Duron [Harmon], J-Mac [Jason McCourty], and D-Mac [Devin McCourty], in a group text they all sent messages,’’ said Sanu. “It was cool. They were all like, ‘Welcome. It’s about time!’ ’’


Though Sanu has been in red, white, and blue for less than two months, it feels as if he’s been here a lot longer.

“It does!’’ he said, emphatically.

Having so many existing relationships made it an easy and comfortable transition.

“Man, I’m a chameleon,’’ Sanu said. “I like being around good people and having a good time and doing my part, that’s all. I’m a simple guy.’’

Bill Belichick, who sent a second-round pick to Atlanta for Sanu, has noticed how quickly Sanu blended in.

“I mean, he’s a great guy,’’ said the coach. “I think he gets along well with everybody — coaches, players, offensive teammates, defensive teammates, he’s involved in the kicking game. So yeah, he’s a guy that is easy to get to know, easy to talk to, and seems to have fit in quickly. Yeah, good teammate, definitely.’’

Sanu said he heard stories from players around the league about New England being a hard place to play because of the workload, but he never put much stock into other’s opinions or perceptions.

“You can’t listen to any outsiders’ expectations. I don’t listen to anybody else’s expectations, for real,’’ he said. “I have my own expectations for myself and if I don’t meet those, I have to deal with myself. No consequences from nobody or anybody. That’s how I see things.’’

Sanu said he’s “enjoyed” every second in New England, from the start when he was given a locker next to Tom Brady.


“I loved that,’’ Sanu said. “Tom’s a great, great guy. Funny. Cool. Great energy about him. He cares about everybody.’’

Sanu smiled when recalling his first conversation as Brady’s teammate.

“He was like, ‘What up, babe. I’m Tom. Glad you’re here,’ ’’ said Sanu, who tried to play it off as no big deal at first.

Then reality hit.

“It was pretty cool, though,’’ said Sanu. “I mean, that’s Tom Brady!’’

Sanu has 18 catches for 135 yards since arriving in New England, though he’s been hampered by an ankle injury that is coming around. He could be primed for a breakout day as he returns to his old haunt as the Patriots look to get back to their winning ways.

“He’s just somebody you’re proud to watch and see have success, and he’s gone about it the right way, and I think that’s the cool thing about Mo,’’ said Lewis. “Each and every day he comes to work and he’s one of those guys you can count on. Maybe you’ve lost a game or two and you need a guy that can put the team on their back — he’s that type of guy.’’

Tom Brady talked with Sanu during the Patriots’ game against the Ravens on Nov. 3.
Tom Brady talked with Sanu during the Patriots’ game against the Ravens on Nov. 3.Nick Wass/AP/FR67404 AP via AP

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.